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Read Making a Killing

home / healthcare / in the media

The Vancouver Sun (British Columbia, Canada)
Aug 25, 2004

by Doug Alexander, Vancouver Sun

U.S. demand for our medicine worries druggists

As the Rx Express -- a train carrying American seniors seeking cheaper medical prescriptions in Canada -- rolls toward Vancouver, the College of Pharmacists of B.C. warns such action could ultimately hurt Canada.

There will "definitely be some public policy implications" if such actions continue, said Linda Lytle of the College of Pharmacists.

"Our various organizations are urging Health Canada or the federal government itself to initiate some higher-level discussions on these issues because there is the potential for drug product shortages, inventory shortages, and possibly human resource shortages.

"Those particular issues are not within our area of jurisdiction, but it is obviously a concern and probably should be for everybody," she added.

Americans have been increasingly turning to Canada as a cheaper source of prescription drugs than they can find at home. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration bans the importation of drugs from Canada but does allow people to buy up to three months' supply for personal use.

The Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights has spent $25,000 to charter part of an Amtrak train to bring seniors and other patients to Vancouver to buy cheap prescription drugs in a protest against the disparity in drug pricing between Canada and the U.S. Prescription drugs are available in Canada at 30 to 60 per cent lower than in the U.S., the group says. The foundation has lobbied the American government to create a national prescription drug bulk purchasing program.

The Rx Express, which left Los Angeles Monday, is expected to arrive at Vancouver's Pacific Central Station at 11:40 a.m. today, when passengers will visit downtown doctors, then get their prescriptions filled here.

Despite Lytle's long-term fears, the college has no problem with helping out American patients.

"We don't differentiate between people that live in B.C., Canada or elsewhere in terms of the standards of practice," she said.

"We have told our pharmacists that if they're going to provide prescriptions to patients from other countries that they have to meet all the standards of practice requirements that they do for Canadian patients, and meet all of the legislative requirements," she said.

Those requirements include having a prescription signed by a Canadian doctor familiar with the patient's case.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons isn't concerned about the arrival of a trainload of American seniors bound for downtown pharmacies.

"There's no bounty on American patients," College registrar Dr. Morris VanAndel said. "They're coming up here to get drugs, that's their concern."

VanAndel also said he has no problem with Americans filling prescriptions in Canada as long as they see a doctor first.

"Our concern is about prescribing without seeing the patients," he said. "These patients are coming up here and if they see a doctor here who is satisfied that they need these drugs they can prescribe all he wants."

VanAndel says two issues are at stake.

"The first is the problems that the Americans have in getting reasonable cost prescriptions -- that's an issue that we have no control over," he said. "What we do have control over is a physician blindly countersigning hundreds of prescriptions which are faxed or e-mailed to them, without knowing anything about the patients, and that's where we say, no, that's not appropriate."

In July, the college fined Richmond physician Dr. Satnam Singh Gandham $25,000 for countersigning prescriptions for U.S. patients without face-to-face contact -- a practice that is becoming common across Canada as Americans turn to the Internet to order cheaper drugs from Canadian pharmacies.

Burrard Pharmacy, at 1160 Burrard St., plans to serve some of these arriving Americans.

"They're seeing the physician upstairs and we're downstairs, so it was just the simplest thing to do," said Leon Jung, the pharmacy's manager.

Burrard Pharmacy is no stranger to American customers.

"We're in the downtown core so we're always seeing a lot of tourists anyway, the hotels are all around here, and they're always coming in," Jung said.

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